Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay supports a diverse fishery that rivals any you’ll find in the Great Lakes. Hard-water anglers can enjoy a smorgasbord that includes brown, lake and rainbow trout, walleyes, perch, pike, whitefish, herring and even smallmou
Roger LaPenter, of Anglers All in Ashland, and Craig Putchat, of
Outdoor Allure in Washburn, both report good ice as far north as
Houghton Point and excellent action for walleyes, splake and brown
trout in water out to 35 feet deep. The angler armed with jig rods,
tip-ups, a handful of jigging spoons and a bucket of shiners is
likely to come in with a mixed bag just about anywhere on the bay
Good spots for walleyes, splake, browns and the occasional lake
trout include the flats off Bono Creek in Barksdale, between
Ashland and Washburn; the shipping channel from Washburn to
Houghton Point; and around the Ashland breakwater.
Anglers set out two tip-ups baited with shiners, then jig with a
bright jigging spoon in a nearby hole. Swedish Pimples and
Buck-Shot spoons are popular for jigging. Some days, fish will look
at a spoon, but refuse to hit it and instead will take live bait.
Putchat reports that when they’re really fussy, they’ll come in to
look at a spoon, then take a teardrop tipped with a wax worm.
You may need to add weight to tip-up baits to keep them down
because fairly strong currents move in and out of the bay under the
ice. Lines will point north for a time, then swing south when the
current shifts. Fish move with the currents, so you may get a
flurry of bites, then nothing, then another flurry of action.
To target perch and northerns, work the weedbeds off Barksdale
and the Ashland side of the bay from the old docks west of town out
to Oak Point.
“The northern fishery is coming back again, after a few years of
declining catches,” LaPenter says. “There are some nice pike being
Tip-ups baited with large minnows or dead smelt will take pike,
while light jig rods and a variety of tiny ice lures tipped with
wax worms, shiners or fatheads will take perch. Perch action east
of town gets hotter as spring nears.
Whitefish and herring (called ciscoes in inland lakes) also are
common in the bay. Whitefish also are taken by commercial fishermen
and served fresh in area restaurants. They’re great broiled or
fried, and their livers are a local delicacy. A plate of fried
whitefish livers at Maggie’s in Bayfield is an essential part of
the Lake Superior experience.
“There’s a pretty good whitefish bite this winter,” Putchat
says. “They’re feeding on mayfly larvae on the sandgrass beds off
Washburn’s Memorial and West End parks in 18 to 22 feet of water
and will hit teardrops and waxies.”
Later, anglers take whitefish on jigging spoons in deeper
The bay’s renowned smallmouths can also be taken through the
ice. Putchat says bass are hitting jigging spoons just off the
power plant hot pond in Ashland. The one-fish, 22-inch limit is in
effect, so this is a catch-and-release fishery. Bass average 17 to
19 inches, a handful on a short jig rod!
Once the ice is safe north of Houghton Point, there is usually
good trout and splake action off the Sioux and Onion rivers. Come
late February, splake, browns and rainbows start moving toward the
river mouths, where the rainbows stage prior to their spring
spawning run. Shiners and spawn sacs will take all three species on
jig rods or full-size spinning rods fished with locally made
“whip-ups,” which set the hook the instant a fish takes the
The lake trout “bobbing” season gets under way as soon as
anglers can get out to deep water. “Bobbing sticks” are oval wooden
devices that hold several hundred feet of wire or dacron line, to
which is fastened a short monofilament leader and a heavy swimming
jig, usually an airplane or beetle jig. These are tipped with a
chunk of dead smelt or a shiner and lowered to bottom, then jigged
rhythmically to swim the jig in a rising/falling circle until a
lake trout hits. The angler then pulls the fish onto the ice by
backing up, rather than retrieving the line, to avoid kinking wire
or tangling dacron.
The South Channel, between Madeline Island and Long Island, and
the humps north of Long Island are good laker spots, but some
anglers head miles out amid the Apostle Islands.
More than on inland lakes, ice fishing on Chequamegon Bay is
dependent on the weather. Strong offshore winds can blow thin ice
right out of the bay early or late in the season. Onshore winds can
pile up pack ice and make travel hazardous. LaPenter says there is
a lot of slush on top of the ice this year, due to heavy snow in
December, so snowmobiles are about the only way to get out.
New to Chequamegon Bay? Then hire a guide the first time out.
Even if you’re an old hand, be careful. Fog or a snow squall can
disorient you if you can’t see shore. Carry a compass and a cell
phone or two-way radio and let someone know where you’re going.
In 15 winters of fishing the bay, I survived two serious
mishaps. One December before the bay had completely frozen over, my
son Jon and I, along with some 40 other anglers, were stranded
briefly on a large ice floe that broke away from shore at Barksdale
in a strong southwest wind. Several years later in March, Roger
LaPenter and Jon and I broke through a weak spot and sent Roger’s
truck to the bottom in eight feet of water a couple miles offshore.
In both instances, we made it to shore with help. Others have not
been so lucky.
On the Ashland side, get on the bay at Kreher Park off Prentice
Avenue or at Second Landing, several miles east of town on Reykdal
Road. On the Washburn side, get on the ice at the Barksdale landing
near Bono Creek, at West End Park or the coal dock off Central
For bait, tackle, guide service and ice conditions, call Anglers
All in Ashland, (715) 682-5754; or Outdoor Allure in Washburn,
(715) 373-0551. For other services, call the Ashland Area Chamber
of Commerce: 1-800-284-9484.